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Shifting the standards of communication June 19, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I said this in a comment to my last post:

The standard social rules, as I understand them, privilege a worldview of monogamy, heterosexuality, and a stance leaning towards sex-negativity. I would like the standards to shift towards polyamory, pansexuality (or at least bisexuality), and sex-positivity. How far should the standards shift? I don’t know. That’s the discussion I want to have (Generally, not necessarily here and with you. Unless that conversation interests you).

This, I think summarizes my primary issue with the whole harassment policy/sex-positivity issue I have been talking about recently.

The way we communicate in this culture has been devised, probably organically, in a world of  conservative sexuality; hetero-monogamo-sexnegativity.  That is, the rules about how we flirt, express our desires, arose in a world where you had to first determine if the object of your desire is single, interested in your gender, etc.

In an ideal world, it should not matter.  If a person directly and respectfully expresses interest, it should not matter if they are married, monogamous, and like only people of not-your-gender.  It should not matter if they are asexual.  They can simply say that they are not interested, and the world simply moves on.

Granted, it is tiring having to say no many times (just like its tiring explaining what “atheism” and “Polyamory” are many times), but it is better than not expressing what we really want, clearly and unambiguously.  That’s my view.

If we get used to directness, it will eventually becomes as natural to us as our current standard of indirectness and politeness.  As Nietzsche said;

that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task

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Comments»

1. Ginny - June 19, 2012

I agree with this, with two addenda. First, the primary burden of changing the culture needs to be on those who exert social pressure against honest, straightforward “no”s. Although I agree with the basic principles, I get a little tetchy every time I see a post (including ones on this blog) where the primary message is, “Recipients of sexual attention, communicate your boundaries more clearly!” rather than “Initiators of sexual attention, be respectful and take no for an answer, without argument, sulking, or rudeness!” Lead with the injunctions to be respectful in pursuit and gracious in accepting refusal; in other words, direct most of your instruction to the people who are behaving badly, rather than to the people who are responding in a self-protective manner to others’ bad behavior.

Second, part of approaching people respectfully is making yourself the vulnerable one. I highly advocate beginning a sexual advance with, “I’m very attracted to you,” rather than putting the other person on the spot by asking if they’re interested. Stating your own attraction puts yourself in the vulnerable position, and doesn’t instantly demand something of the other person.

2. Angie Tupelo - June 19, 2012

Ginny- yes, everything you said times a zillion. I believe you will enjoy this http://feministlawprofessors.com/?p=12965 (TW for non-graphic reference to sexual assault and rape.)

3. A. Guest - June 19, 2012

#2, I know you’re joking, but being respectful entails a lot more than, well, preventing sexual assault. Many people may not realize at all that a well-intentioned, if clumsy approach on their part may be reasonably interpreted by others as a potential threat to one’s personal safety.

The approach Ginny refers to here – namely, putting one’s best foot forward and presenting oneself as potentially a worthwhile *target* for intimate attention, as opposed to an initiator – then acts as an effective de-escalation tactic and mitigates the partial implication of conflict which is inherent in any initial approach.

The irony here is that most folks are “street smart” enough that they would definitely use *very similar de-escalation tactics* if they had to interact for some reason with, er, shady types from the ‘hood. Yet somehow this savy does not transfer to a context where their *own* personal safety is not on the line, but rather their propensity towards responsible behavior.

4. Angie Tupelo - June 19, 2012

A. Guest- I’m actually not joking, I love that list. I’m aware that sexual assault is not the only thing we’re trying to prevent.

I’m also a bit mystified by your last paragraph- are you saying that the initiators or the receivers should be using “de-escalation tactics”?

5. A. Guest - June 20, 2012

#4, well, obviously I meant that those who would wish to *initiate* such proposals would do best by taking steps to de-escalate the interaction. I’m not sure what I’d recommend to those who *receive* an interaction which may be unwanted to them: they’re obviously in a very different position and their behavior should reflect that.

(For what it’s worth, my tentative advice in any sketchy or unwanted situation is to look confident, alert and mindful of one’s personal safety; and disengage the conversation respectfully but firmly. I don’t think de-escalation applies much here, except in the rather obvious sense of not showing disrespect unless clearly necessary.)

6. Being sex positive is complicated…. | Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History - June 20, 2012

[…] been watching and reading a bunch of posts over at Poly Skeptic discussing harassment at conventions and a bunch of other complicated issues.  […]

7. Honest is Hard; Rudeness is Easy « atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - June 20, 2012

[…] conclusion, I’d like to highlight this comment from Ginny: part of approaching people respectfully is making yourself the vulnerable one. I highly […]

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